AARP announced today four Wyoming organizations have been named grantees for the 2022 AARP Community Challenge Grants. In Wyoming, the grants will go to the Children’s Museum of Cheyenne, The Casper Legion, Powder River Basin Resource Council, and Veterans’ Rock.
Community Challenge Grants fund quick-action projects that help communities become more livable in the long-term by improving public spaces, transportation, housing, civic engagement, coronavirus recovery, diversity and inclusion, and more. Now in its sixth year, the grant program is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns, neighborhoods and rural areas to become great places to live. In past years AARP has funded several projects that directly benefit and support the Veterans and Military families community.
“This is really one of our favorite times of year as we are able to support projects submitted by communities and organizations who are working hard to improve livability for all,” says AARP Wyoming State Director Sam Shumway. “This year we were able to fund two veterans-focused projects, which made the Community Challenge Awards process feel extra special.”
Wyoming’s grant recipients were:
The Casper American Legion will receive $30,000 for its Wyoming’s Fallen Memorial, a monument which will feature the name of every Wyoming citizen who has given their lives in combat defending the freedom of the United State since the start of Wyoming’s statehood.
The Casper Legion has worked with the Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars to find a way citizens can observe the memorial by foot, wheelchair, or even car. The memorial will be located at Patterson Park, along the North Platte River near Fort Caspar and its museum in Natrona County, which has nearly 3,000 military veterans. The memorial itself will feature a bended pipe and a large memorial arch that is 36 feet wide and 15 feet tall. The arch will be back-lit so it is visible at night.
It is the hope that shovels will go into the ground in Mid-July with plan for opening ceremonies for Gold Star Mothers’ and Families Day on September 25.
Dean Welch, the Post 2 Adjutant for the Casper Legion says the state believes Wyoming has 1,290 fallen soldiers since it became a state, but that list is being validated currently and may grow to over 1,500 names.
“One of our focuses in this project is to help the elderly and disabled can get to the memorial and honor those who gave their lives,” says Welch. “I thought that kind of touches on AARP, having accessibility and having our citizens be able to show their respects.”
Children’s Museum of Cheyenne received $2,645 to provide a space for relaxation and contemplation on ADA-compliant outside benches, on the Children’s Museum of Cheyenne property, close to the Greater Cheyenne Greenway.
The museum will place the benches at 1618 O’Neal Avenue in Cheyenne and will be built by five retired volunteers. The benches are steel, have a weight capacity of 650 lbs., and feature wildlife found in Wyoming, such as; bears, fish, elk, and bison.
Cheyenne Children’s Museum will be located along the Greater Cheyenne Greenway walking path and the museum is hoping the benches allow it to become a multi-generational destination along the Greenway. The Cheyenne Children’s Museum plans to begin construction of its facility by the end of 2022.
Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC) is in line for $3,712 to provide accessible and safe seating and path lighting at an established community food forest frequented by families and older adults in Sheridan. The PRBRC and a host of dedicated food forest volunteers have been instrumental in developing and maintaining The Sheridan Food Forest over the last five years.
The food forest is filled with apple and pear trees, as well as a wild berry thicket, vegetable garden, grape vines and a perennial pollinator garden and much more. The garden is open 24/7 to the community to enjoy both the great variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers
and to harvest the produce when ready for consumption.
The garden is located alongside a community walking path that wanders throughout the city and beyond for many miles. Both the walking path and garden are easily accessible. The food forest provides a welcoming spot to pause and relax. The AARP Community Challenge Grant will pay for safe seating places made of a rustic material that will match the forest and resist rot, strategically placed along the walkway, and lighted pathways in the forest.
The Veterans’ Rock organization out of Cheyenne will receive $4,000 to help provide transportation to older veterans in hopes of helping them to stay independent. Veterans’ Rock will use this money to fund everything from rides in the organization’s vehicles, to city transit, commuter buses, and even to offer basic car repairs.
Veterans’ Rock, which opened nearly two years ago, is a nonprofit organization created solely to help veterans in need and their families with clothing, personal care items, foods, household goods, small apartment-size furniture, gas and food cards. The organization also offers veterans computers to help with job searches and telehealth, much needed gear, showers, and a washer and dryer for any veteran in need to do laundry.
Veterans’ Rock is also able to help veterans with travel expenses, rent, monthly bills, auto repairs, brief hotel stays and other expenses, up to $200 using funding from its thrift store, as well as donations from the community.
“We will help to lessen the burden of mental injury and fight to overpower veteran suicide in a supportive, welcoming environment,” says Cindy Stockdale, Board President of Veterans’ Rock. “They fought for our freedom; now we want to help them live free of everyday burdens in small, but impactful ways.”
About the Community Challenge Grants
In 2022, AARP is awarding 260 grants, totaling $3.4 million. With this year’s major investment of $3.4 million and 260 grantees, across the six years of the program (2017-2022) we will have invested $12.7 in over 1,060 projects! The projects improve communities by creating safe mobility options, supporting new housing options and more.
There are several immediate and important areas of emphasis:
- The American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Law: To leverage the opportunity presented under these landmark laws, we asked applicants to detail how their projects connect. This year, one in five (19%) of funded projects are helping organizations and communities leverage funding or engage residents on projects connected to the Rescue Plan and Infrastructure law.
- Mobility: The pandemic revealed the importance of having access to a range of transportation options and we are working with a trusted partner to meet the challenge. Building on a multi-year investment that Toyota has made in AARP Driver Safety’s mobility work, $300,000 from Toyota will support 18 high impact mobility Challenge Grants in 2022. With this, we are making our largest commitment to advancing transportation options with $760,000 going to 55 grants across the country.
- Housing: Housing is a critical issue and applicants are devising creative solutions to address it. To support those, the program will invest in several inventive programs and workshops for residents, education campaigns to increase building of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), demonstration efforts focused on ADUs and tiny homes, and innovative home repair programs.
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Projects in the DEI category represent 15% of the total grants, with 38 projects ($500,000) funded. Impressively, 86% of all grants indicated that they intend to address disparities through their project execution.
- Rural: The Community Challenge is one of our country’s leading rural placemaking programs as 41% of grants and $1.4 million in funding are being delivered in rural communities this year.
- Veterans and Military Families: This year we prioritized outreach to organizations serving veterans and military families (VMF) and are funding several high impact projects that focus on this community, with 29% of all grants incorporating the VMF community into their efforts.
Past Community Challenge Grant Awards
The Town of Wheatland
The Town of Wheatland received $28,000 from AARP in 2021, which it used to construct pickleball courts at Lewis Park on Eighth Street in Wheatland. According to Wheatland officials, there are better than 100 pickleball players in town, ranging in age from 20 to 83. That group struggled to find a place to play last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wheatland used its grant funding to repurpose an underutilized area of the City Park. The community removed seven horseshoe pits (leaving five) and replaced them with two outdoor pickleball courts in an area with existing lighting, adjacent to existing restrooms.
In 2021, Evanston Main Street’s $12,550 grant went towards improving public spaces in downtown, as the Urban Renewal Agency plans to increase outdoor seating with the construction of two swing picnic tables, which will be placed in separate public gathering places.
One side of the picnic tables will be a solid bench, while the other side will have swings with the ends being open to allow for wheelchair accessibility. The second deliverable for the grant will be the addition of decorative crosswalks across Main Street. The crosswalks will bookend the area where the two swinging picnic tables will reside.
The Jackson Hole Land Trust was awarded a $10,250 grant from AARP in 2020 to provide benches in downtown Jackson. The Land Trust will partner with local artists and AARP’s Age Friendly Jackson, to purchase and install at least three locally-made benches. The benches will be located on The Block, a 1.3 acre of downtown greenspace that was recently preserved by the Land Trust. The Block will also include 100-year-old Cottonwood trees, ADA pathways through the greenspace. The Block is on the same street as a local assisted living center, and one block from the Jackson Town Square.
The Cokeville Senior Citizens Center is receiving $25,000 in 2020 Challenge Grant funds to improve walkability as well as the ability for citizens to access the town’s Senior Center. The grant is part of nearly $47,000 in community improvements, which will also include increasing access to the Cokeville City Park’s pavilion and restrooms, by adding ramps to each. The Cokeville project will include improvements to crumbling concrete, the addition of ramps, and replacement of a raised deck in the courtyard at the Senior Center, which will allow those with wheelchairs, walkers, or canes to take part in outdoor activities at the center.
In 2019, The North Main Street Association in Sheridan was granted $11,700 to fund a new gazebo, picnic table and nine benches along the North Main Trail. Meanwhile, The Jackson Hole Community Pathways project was awarded a $14,440 grant to help make downtown Jackson a more enjoyable space for the age 50+. Jackson Hole Community Pathways used the money on a design workshop to solicit input from those age 50 and over on downtown walkability, amenities, and activities. Pathways is also coordinating with Cycling Without Age and Teton Adaptive Sports for two Trishaw bikes that will provide rides to seniors around town.
In 2018, AARP’s Community Challenge program funded projects in Laramie and Rock Springs. In Laramie, a grant of $20,000 to fund a new fully accessible community garden to increase access to healthy food, multi-generational learning opportunities, and support a culture of health for all people living with mobility and disability challenges. In Rock Springs, a $5,000 grant has funded a mural to be prominently displayed in Downtown Rock Springs, which will depict the hard work and sacrifices of local miners and railroad workers.
In 2017, two Wyoming communities – Casper and Jackson – were awarded Community Challenge Grants. In Casper, the grant provided a safer and more convenient bus stop behind the city’s east side Albertsons at 2625 East Second Street. In Jackson, a similar bus stop was replaced in an area which was cluttered with weeds, a broken down vehicle and other trash in an underserved area of the community. A bench was placed on the site and age-friendly signage entices low-income seniors, disabled individuals, and young families to use the bus system.